Nothing kills a joke like trying to explain it. But that seems to be the theme of “Louie” (10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., FX), a new sitcom from stand-up veteran Louis C.K.
A comedian of despair and resignation, Louis C.K. keeps audiences laughing with gloomy takes on love and death. A divorced father in his 40s, he dreads dating because it opens the door to quick rejection or gradual disenchantment. To him, even a potential marriage means either divorce or a fulfilling, decades-long commitment followed by the death of one spouse. “That’s the best possible outcome,” he observes, to gales of laughter.
Unfortunately, “Louie” follows up these comedy club witticisms with brief skits that attempt to act out C.K.’s bleak perspective. The results are a mixed bag. In one segment, he accompanies his daughter’s class on a nightmarish school trip, and in another, he demonstrates the futility of first dates between people whose interior monologues couldn’t be less attuned. At its best, “Louie” approaches the doomed humor of Woody Allen. But most sketches demonstrate how even Woody Allen can’t pull this off most of the time.
Even at its least satisfying, “Louie” is a perfect companion piece to “Rescue Me” (9 p.m., FX), now entering its sixth season. Arguably the best drama-comedy to emerge in the post-9/11 era, “Rescue Me” has done nothing less than rescue New York firemen from the plaster-saint status of “heroes” and infuse its characters with remarkable depth. As the season begins, a church fire offers Tommy (Denis Leary) a vision of hell that he just can’t shake.
• “Frontline World” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings) returns to a feel-good story that may be proven a bit too good to be true. Back in 2005, the program reported on the “PlayPump,” a merry-go-round-like device intended to use the power of children’s play to meet the need for water in parched sections of southern Africa. Five years later, the verdict on the “PlayPump” is not so rosy, and many international aid organizations and philanthropists have backed away.
• “Ten Ways to Kill Bin Laden” (7 p.m., History) recalls efforts to terminate the terrorist leader from the 1990s to the present, including some that have come tantalizingly close.
Tonight’s other highlights
• A pricey deli becomes the setting for a two-hour helping of “Hell’s Kitchen” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Auditions continue on “America’s Got Talent” (8 p.m., NBC).
• “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” (9 p.m., Bravo) travels to Alaska.
• A scientist faces charges of arson on “The Good Wife” (9 p.m., CBS).
• “The Beaches of Agnes” on “POV” (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings) profiles French filmmaker Agnes Varda.